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Ministry pushes to increase face mask production

Finnish care homes have faced a shortage of face masks during the coronavirus epidemic.

Nainen asettaa hengitysmaskia kasvoilleen.
A healthcare worker putting on a face mask. Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health wants better cooperation between municipalities and businesses in the production of lighter fabric face masks, according to Päivi Sillanaukee, Director General at the Ministry.

Sillanaukee told Yle that the protection the fabric face masks provide is not the same as medical grade protective equipment, but they will prevent infections to a certain extent and could be used by nursing home caregivers.

The initiative is aimed at responding to the acute shortage of protective equipment, particularly in nursing homes. Over the weekend three people died in a North Savo nursing home, with three more in Espoo also passing away after contracting coronavirus.

The ministry has previously advised that washable face masks are also suitable for use by nursing home and home care workers, but that hospital grade masks should be saved for healthcare personnel.

The extent of the shortage was highlighted when it was reported last week that Finnish hospitals received face masks and equipment marked with use-by dates in 2012.

Instructions on use

According to the guidelines issued by the ministry, a face mask or respirator must be used by home care and nursing home workers in order to protect clients from contracting novel coronavirus that might be potentially carried by the staff.

The instructions state that a disposable surgical mouthpiece or a washable fabric cover, such as a scarf, can be used when working with healthy and asymptomatic clients.

The fabric face mask may be used only once as instructed and is either washed or discarded after use. Instructions will be provided to staff on how to use and disinfect the fabric guards, which is also suitable for use in family care and when providing personal assistance to people with disabilities.

Cooperation encouraged

Municipalities have been urged to identify and contact companies in their area that could quickly begin manufacturing fabric face masks.

In a press release issued on Monday evening, the Association of Finnish Municipalities said direct purchases of fabric face masks from local companies has the potential to support local economies in these "exceptional circumstances".

Local production would also shorten supply chains and improve the availability of face masks, helping workers and clients remain protected as the epidemic expands, according to the association’s statement.

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